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Archive for Thursday, November 12, 1998

BALLET HISPANICO: AMBASSADORS OF DANCE

November 12, 1998

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The New York City-based dance company has been conducting residency activities this week in Hutchinson, Great Bend and Lawrence.

By Jan Biles

Journal-World Arts Editor

Tina Ramirez founded Ballet Hispanico in 1970 with a sole purpose: She wanted the dance company to be a goodwill vehicle to introduce non-Hispanics to the Latino-Hispanic culture.

"I wanted to show how we moved, how we reacted to music, the colors we wear," she said.

Ballet Hispanico will perform at 8 p.m. Saturday at the Lied Center. The program will include "Tierra de Nadie," choreographed by Maria Rovira, a highly physical piece that reflects the Spanish culture; "Bury Me Standing," by Ramon Oller, based on the Gypsy culture and the rhythms and melodies of Spain and Western Europe; and "Ritmo y Ruido," by Tony Award-winner Ann Reinking, which is set to hip-hop and Afro-Cuban percussion.

The company built by the Venezuelan-born Ramirez is known for mixing classical ballet techniques and Spanish dance forms. The dancers perform mostly commissioned works that are set to Spanish and Latin American music and range from the traditional to the avant garde.

Ramirez pointed out that there are 21 Spanish-speaking countries and the cultures of those nations vary. So she and her dancers have plenty of material to work with, from the tango of Argentina to the bolero of Cuba to the flamenco of Spain.

Ramirez was a protegee of Spanish dance legend Lola Bravo, who lived in New York and taught semiclassic techniques, ballet, folklorico and several styles of Spanish dance.

"She didn't influence my choreography, but she was a role model," Ramirez said. "When she retired she asked me if I wanted to teach. ... I thought I could be helpful. I told her I would try it for a year, and then I was hooked. I saw I could change people's lives through the arts."

Since its inception, Ballet Hispanico has been made up of seven female and five male dancers. Members must audition and be accepted into the troupe, and they must be trained in modern dance, ballet and ethnic dance as well as be able to sing and speak from the stage.

"Dancers come in, and they change," she said. "It's exciting to watch as a dancer grows artistically."

In addition to the dance company, Ramirez founded the Ballet Hispanico School of Dance, which now offers year-round professional training in ballet and Spanish dances to more than 750 students.

The Lawrence performance is the final show in the company's fall tour. The dancers will open a two-week run in December at the Joyce Theater in New York City and begin their next tour in January or February.

The members of Ballet Hispanico are serving as artists-in-residence this week in Lawrence and western Kansas. On Tuesday, four members of the company traveled to Hutchinson to teach master classes with school children and then lessons that night at a community Latin social dance, while other members stayed in Lawrence to teach a master class at Kansas University and visit with preschool students at the Lawrence Arts Center.

Wednesday, the company divided its time between visiting students and residents in Great Bend and conducting master classes at KU and with the Prairie Wind Dancers at the Lawrence Arts Center. The group participated in a Latin social dance and potluck dinner that night at the arts center.

Today, the company will perform "Viva las Americas" for students in grades 3 through 6 at the Lied Center, and on Friday the dancers will perform "Crossing the Borders" for students in grades 7 and up at the Lied Center. Saturday, a "behind the scenes" tour with the company will be held from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. at the Lied Center.

-- Jan Biles' phone message number is 832-7146. Her e-mail address is jbiles@ljworld.com.

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